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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Tough Leaders Have These in Common

There’s no doubt about it, providing effective leadership in any context is a tough job; and, it requires tough leaders.

Toughness, however, is often misunderstood.

At the end of the day, toughness itself does not automatically result in effective leadership.

Toughness is a product of the quality of self; chiefly, it is a quality of a mature and principled person.


What Toughness is Not


Tough leadership elicits respect rather than fear in the organization.

It provides a sense of confidence in the system because persons know the person in charge will be consistent in looking out for the welfare of the organization, and therefore, for the welfare of all rather than a few.

It creates a level of trust in the persons who invest their time and talent in the mutual work and shared enterprise because they know the leader can be counted on.


12 Qualities of a Tough Leader

They don’t see setbacks as anomalies.

They understand that at the heart of leadership is confronting constant problems, setbacks, and challenges almost daily—those they can anticipate and prepare for, and the ones that blindside them when they least expect it.


They know when to say no, and, when to say yes. They have a clear vision for where they want to take the organization, and of the values that will help realize the vision. As such, they are able to say no to those things that will be an impediment or distraction.


The are not afraid of risk because they understand that every initiative involves uncertainty and no amount of data guarantees outcomes or success.


They give honest feedback knowing that challenge promotes maturity and responsibility, while coddling only promotes dependence.


They have a high threshold for pain, understanding that authentic leadership invites criticism, is a lonely enterprise, and no good and well-intentioned deed goes unpunished.


They do not tolerate ineptitude, underfunctioning, or irresponsibility, knowing that tolerating these in the organization will only ensure they will lose their best people, while accommodating those who are not likely to contribute to the vision nor be a resource during times of challenge.


The do not underwrite the unmotivated through incentives, bonuses, or remuneration for work that is part of the job. They cultivate a culture of high expectation and provide the institutional resources to help people achieve it.


They express gratitude and publicly acknowledge excellence in others, because they know that while high performers are internally motivated, a little praise and a simple acknowledgment is often the only reward those people need.


They are unapologetic about high expectations, and model it.


They are not afraid of making difficult decisions when they are convinced they are the right ones.


They are clear about what they are responsible for, and don’t take responsibility for those things that are not theirs to control.


They are relentless in the face of sabotage. Tough leaders know that successful organizations and individuals have one thing in common: they never quit when things got difficulty or things seemed impossible.


Explore more about how to be an effective leader by joining our Leadership in Ministry Workshops at the Center for Lifelong Learning.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.

Dr. G. & Friends